Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Trying to capture a pure sense of self is tricky these days. With access to an endless stream of information and resources that are limited only by the mind, it’s easy to get swept up in the flux. Characterised by the need for immediacy and rapid assimilation, modern living takes its toll on our ability to sift through ourselves and find a semblance of identity. On their fifth album, Canadian electro-rock outfit Metric take aim at artifice. Frontwoman Emily Haines claims it’s “about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection.”
Haines has done her fair bit of reflecting. Following the death of her father, poet Paul Haines, she released an ethereal, piano orientated solo album. The caustic nature of her main band was perhaps not the place to put those ghosts to rest. However you got the sense that her personal output spilled over into Metric’s next album, 2009’s gorgeous Fantasies. It wasn’t just Haines’ lyrical content being noticeably more revealing, the album was melody driven and spacious, finally giving into the pop tendencies the band always hinted at. It appeared as an onset of self-awareness, and by that standard Synthetica is progression to self-reflection.
On Fantasies you were met with Haines, wide-eyed, saying “Help I’m alive/ and my heart is beating like a hammer.” It felt lucid and poignant. ‘Artificial Nocturne’, the opening track off Synthetica gives the impression of contentment in spite of being bewildered. Haines offers resignation when she sings “I’m as far gone as they say/ I can’t fake the daytime”. She makes it feel like a victorious opting out too, singing “I’ll make all that I believe/ I set myself free.”
Rebellion is not a new theme for Metric, so it’s fitting then that they’ve readopted some of their edginess, giving the album an industrial sheen. It’s a balance between the defiance they played with early on in their career, and the hooks and melodic sensibilities of more recent material. Haines’ vocals have always been heavenly, a talent she has lent to many collaborations throughout her career. She can carry a grimy rock song like ‘Youth Without Youth’ and still enchant with every syllable.
‘Speed The Collapse’ is an ominous sounding number. The sinister guitar work from James Shaw is coupled with Haines’ dark lyrical imagery, warning of the dangers of indifference with “Distant lightning, thunder claps/ Watched our neighbour’s house collapse/ Looked the other way”. The gloom gives way to ‘Breathing Underwater’, a track that demands radio play with its blissful synthesizers and angelic verses. ‘Lost Kitten’ is a cheeky and mischievous track, deceptive for how overtly poppy it sounds. The band took a minimalistic approach, using a playful bass line to accentuate Haines’ pitch changes between the sharp, high chorus and her breathy delivery in the verses. ‘Clone’ slows things down; it’s a breezy keyboard affair about sticking to your guns, with another choice line in “Call me out/ My regret only makes me stronger yet.”
Synthetica doesn’t quite reach the heights of Fantasies, but it’s a solid effort that blends Metric’s varied qualities. The musicianship is tight, and having Haines up front guarantees intrigue at the least. They have a good grip on their own aesthetic, enough to suggest they’d excel in whichever direction they head from here. For now, they’re rightly content to explore their dynamic in an attempt to take stock of what is authentic. If their trajectory stays its course it promises plenty, because after awareness and reflection, the next logical step is actualization. For the many things they’ve gotten right so far, Metric at their full potential is a prospect of dizzying appeal.